Name Variations Mary Ann1 alias Sarah JAMES
Father John PARSONS b. m. d. aft. 1877
Mother Bridget McCABE b.c. 18332 m. none d. aft. 1889
Inmate Sarah Ann PARSONS b. 18523 m. 1873 (see below) d. aft. 1880
Brother John E. PARSONS b. 18554 m. 18755 Ann STAPLETON d. 19196
Brother Edwin Henry PARSONS b. 18577 m. none - d. 18598
Sister unnamed PARSONS b. 18599 m. d.
Brother Edwin Henry PARSONS b.c. 1860 m. (1) 189510 (2) 189711 (1) Louisa ROWE (2) Charlotte Eliza MACKIESON d. 193712
Sister unnamed PARSONS b. 186113 m. d.
Sister Ada M. PARSONS b. 186614 m. none - d. 186615
Brother Alfred PARSONS b.c. 1867 m. none - d. 186716
Brother William H. PARSONS b. 186817 m. d.
Husband (1) Timothy HOW b. m. none18 d.
Husband (2) William JAMES b. m. 187319 d.
Husband (3) George HILTON b. m. none d.
Son William H. PARSONS b. 187220 m. none - d. 187321
Son George J. HILTON b. 188722 m. none - d. 188823
Relationship Name Age Height Hair Eyes Complexion Build Distinguishing features
Mother Bridget24 59 5' 1" brown brown fresh
Inmate Sarah25 26 5' 5¼" brown brown
Inmate Sarah26 26 5' 4½" brown blue
Inmate Sarah27 36 5' 4" black brown read and write

Sarah Ann PARSONS alias JAMES (1878)
Image Courtesy of State Records NSW: Photo: 1972; p. 229a; NRS: 2138; [3/6042] Reel: 5099

Sarah Ann was brought to the station-house by her mother on the evening of 24 June 1868, and was charged with being in the habit of wandering about the streets with common prostitutes.28 She appeared in court the following morning where her father, John, stated that Sarah was under sixteen, had left home for a week at a time, associated with girls of the town, would not remain at service and therefore had no means of support. Sarah was sent to Newcastle29 and entered the school on 27 June. Her parents were named in the Entrance Book that recorded that she was a Catholic. Her age was recorded as fifteen but there was an unreadable age also penciled beside the official record. This age almost certainly read 19 because in July, the superintendent Agnes KING wrote in a communication to the Colonial Secretary and indicated that Sarah was 'in reality 19.' The age provided to KING was without doubt a fabrication by Sarah to expedite her early release from the school and was subsequently proved to be incorrect by the authorities.30 Sarah could read the third book and write in copy book31 which was one of the highest educational standards of any admission recorded in the Industrial School Entrance Book.

On 2 July 1868, less than a fortnight after her admission,32 Sarah, Mary Ann HOPKINS and Grace CRAWFORD, undertook one of the most successful and well publicised escapes made from the school. KING reported her account of the incident to the Colonial Secretary prior to the arrest of the three escapees and identified that the girls had escaped at 5.30 in the afternoon.33 Newspapers reported that the trio were followed by one member of the Newcastle Police who failed to catch them. Although some reports indicated that they walked about half the way,34 they must have travelled almost the entire way from Newcastle by sea due to their relatively quick recapture in Sydney. How the trio paid for their passage is unknown. The Police Gazette reported on their escape and described Sarah as tall and thin and about nineteen years of age.35

The Escapades from the Industrial School.36
Two of the three girls who have recently escaped from the Industrial School, Barrack-square, have been retaken in Sydney, and were brought to Newcastle yesterday morning in the steamer. It would seem that, on effecting their escape, they immediately proceeded towards Lake Macquarie, which they crossed in a boat. They then made for Brisbane Water, where they fell in with a schooner, in which they obtained a passage to Sydney. The police received information that the girls were on their way to the metropolis via Brisbane Water, and, of course, telegraphed to head-quarters to that effect. The wanderers got safe to Sydney, and the apprehension of two of them took place shortly after their arrival there. The third is still at large, but her capture may be speedily looked for. She is supposed to have taken refuge with some friends in Sydney, of which city the whole three are natives. Their respective ages were from sixteen to eighteen years.

After the recapture of the last girl, all three were returned to Newcastle on the morning of 8 July in the steamer. Their arrival in Newcastle occurred just prior to the first riot at the school that occurred on 9 July. There was no interview record of Sarah made by CANE after this riot even though Mary Ann and Grace both gave statements, so she was unlikely to have been one of the ringleaders.

On 21 July, only a couple of weeks after this escape, a further incident occurred and KING reported that Mary Ann HOPKINS and Sarah had:

… absented themselves from muster, and although sent for three times, they refused to attend. The Sergeant on duty accompanied me to the Hospital where they were sitting in open defiance of the rules, I entreated them to obey, when Sarah Ann Parsons replied "I have made up my mind not to surrender." They were then removed from the Cell. … [They] commenced smashing their utensils, battering the door, screaming and yelling, I had all possible articles removed with the exception of their beds and bedding; while seeing this done they said, "Stop until Mr Walker37 comes, we have got something to tell him now."38

Sarah made another escape on 3 October with Eliza O'BRIEN. The full details of her escape were reported to the Colonial Secretary by KING on 13 October 1868.

They were safe in their dormitories at 11 o'clock p.m. They made their escape by thrusting out the fastening of a window facing the verandah and broke open the Clothes Store Room by pushing a pole through one of the windows, from which they extracted some of the clothing they escaped in. They piled up some stones on a Bucket and climbed over the Fence next [to] the residence of the Police Magistrate. They were brought back by the Police at 3 o'clock a.m. and placed in the Cells at the Guard House where they will remain until the decision of the Honble. the Colonial Secretary.39

No punishment was recorded for Sarah after this incident. On 20 November 1868 Sarah again absconded with six other girls. A further two girls made a separate escape shortly afterwards. KING named them in her letter to the Colonial Secretary on 21 November 1868,40 stating that all except one41 were returned by two constables at eleven o’clock that night – half an hour after they had escaped – and were placed in the cells. The girls had:

… forced open the windows of No. 4 dormitory, they then climbed over the fence near Mr SCOTT’s residence … [they were recaptured] and placed in the cells.42

Sarah had spent nearly a year in the school when after the change in the superintendency of the school, CLARKE wrote to the Colonial Secretary requesting permission to place Sarah as a general servant with Mr W. LEWIS, the Clerk of Works at Newcastle. In his letter of 10 April 1869, he stated that Sarah J. [sic] 'is past seventeen (17) years of age and her character since I have had charge of the institution has been good.'43 On 13 April, CLARKE’s report stated that he had sent Sarah Ann for a 'few day’s trial' to Mr. M. LEWIS [?] before making a final appointment as a general servant.44 Although no letter has yet been identified, it is believed that Sarah Ann's mother wrote to CLARKE around this time requesting that Sarah be returned to her family as on 17 March 1869, CLARKE wrote a response to her at her home at 6 Ultimo Street, Glebe. He reiterated that Sarah's behaviour had been good and said:45

she is willing to work and when she leaves this Institution she will, I have every reason to believe, make a useful good girl if kindly treated, and should you wish to remove her to your home your best course would be to apply to the Honble the Colonial Secretary stating that you are able and willing to support her.

John PARSONS sent CLARKE's letter together with his own letter expressing his relief that Sarah had improved to the Colonial Secretary and requested her release. The Inspector General of Police investigated John and Bridget and supported their application stating that:

Both Mr Parsons and his wife are persons of good repute. He has for some time been employed in the Railway Department and earns £2.2.0 a week, He states if his application be granted he intends either to obtain his daughter a respectable situation or apprentice her to any trade she may wish.

Sarah Ann was erroneously referred to as Mary Ann by the Colonial Secretary's Department in one part of this correspondence.46 On 29 April 1869, the Entrance Book recorded that Sarah had been discharged to her parents by order of the Colonial Secretary.47 This discharge did not proceed well as in his letter to the Colonial Secretary on 1 August, 1870, CLARKE stated that Sarah:

… was very wild from her childhood, was very troublesome when here and I have heard unfavourable accounts of her since she left – I do not know that she is now in Sydney.

In 1872 Sarah was almost certainly the mother of the illegitimate child William H. PARSONS, by the man Timothy HOW. HOW was ordered to pay five shillings a week for twelve months for William’s upkeep48 but William died early in 1873. On 24 February 1873, Sarah married William JAMES. The notice of the marriage in the newspapers confirmed her second name provided on her baptism registration and also confirmed that her father, who gave permission for her to marry as she was under that age of twenty-one, was identified as John PARSONS of Ultimo Street, Glebe. William was the son of John JAMES.49 Little additional information was provided in the church record but the register of St James, Sydney, further noted that William was 'of full age' and that Sarah was twenty,50 therefore matching her baptism date exactly. No children have yet been identified for the couple and the marriage may have ended quite quickly as, by 1 July 1873, less than six months later, the couple appeared to have separate as William was advertising in the newspapers.


William's Advertisement [1873]
Image courtesy of Trove - Digitalized Newspapers
The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954)51

From the time of this announcement, appearances for Sarah PARSONS aka Sarah JAMES begin to appear in the Sydney courts so it is considered very likely that all these appearances refer to the Newcastle admission. In August 1873 Sarah was charged with riotous behaviour.52 A year later in August 1874 she was again charged with the same offence.53 In July 1876 she was charged with obscene language.54

As Sarah JAMES alias PARSONS, she appeared in the Sydney Quarter Sessions55 on 28 May 1877, after an appearance at the Water Police Court ten days earlier.56 Sarah and her co-accused, George HILTON, were found guilty of robbery with violence57 and she was sentenced to two years hard labour in Darlinghurst Gaol.58 The John PARSONS who was arrested with the couple was discharged.59 The name of this third offended does suggest that Sarah's father or brother was involved in this incident. Darlinghurst Gaol records from 1878 provide a photograph of Sarah and this document confirmed that she had been born in Bathurst in 1853. In February 1879 part of Sarah's sentence was remitted and she was released early. The Police Gazette recorded her as Sarah JAMES alias PARSONS.60 Sarah soon appeared again in the Water Police Court61 charged with vagrancy62 but she paid the 40 shilling fine and was released on 26 April.63 Less than a week later, on 1 May 1879, Sarah was arrested as a suspected person.

Edward Fuller, William Thomas, alias The Brusher, Sarah James, and Mary Ann White were charged by constable Sproule with being suspected persons frequenting Pitt-street for the purpose of committing a felony. … The case against the four prisoners, three of whom are noted thieves and convicted felons, was a clear one … Not long after midnight this morning, Sproule saw the four prisoners in company in Pitt-street, and knowing what kind of characters they were, he watched them, and at length saw them disappear into Rowe-street. On coming to the corner of Rowe-street, or Brougham-place as it was called till lately, he saw Thomas, alias The Brusher, stooping in front of Mr. Hinchy's door, and apparently busily engaged with the lock. Fuller and the two women were standing round attempting to screen Thomas from the observation of any possible passers-by. … [T]hey immediately scattered in all directions. Sproule … traced them up to Castlereagh-street and back by a roundabout route to Pitt-street, where they made an investigation of the doorway of Zeplin's Hotel. The two females had returned again to Hinchy's door, and Sproule apprehended James after a smart chase …

For this offence Sarah received a sentence with hard labour64 and she was admitted to Darlinghurst for six months.65 The record is unclear but it appeared that her sentence was repealed although no record of any repeal has yet been found. The date she was released was recorded as 31 October 1879, and this month of discharge was confirmed in the Police Gazette.66 Mary Ann WHITE and William THOMAS were found guilty of further crimes at the Quarter Sessions in June so received longer sentences.67 Edward FULLAR's sentence was remitted68 after he produced a receipt for the watch that he was carrying.69

An intriguing advertisement, placed by a Sarah JAMES on 27 November 1879, about a month after her release and thought to have been written by the Newcastle admission stated:

I, SARAH JAMES, do hereby give notice to WILLIAM JAMES, my Husband if he does not return to me within fourteen days from this date I intend to marry again. SARAH JAMES. November 26, 1879.

While this advertisement was likely to have been placed by the Newcastle girl, no suitable remarriage has been found to 1883 as either JAMES or PARSONS. It may be that the couple reconciled for a short time. Further incidents almost certainly involving Sarah were recorded under the name Sarah JAMES. In 1880 Sarah was again arrested and described as a prostitute behaving in an indecent manner in Phillip Street and she was again admitted to Darlinghurst Gaol for six months. The Police Gazette identified both her names after this arrest70 although the Darlinghurst Gaol records on 16 July 1880, only identified her as Sarah JAMES. She was released on 15 January 1881.71 Her trial on 16 or 17 July 1880, at the Water Police Court has not yet been found. The Police Gazette for January 1881 announced that Sarah would be released during that month72 and a description was published once her sentence was over. This description contained errors as it is considered almost entirely certain that the gazette contained the erroneous detail that she had been tried in Dubbo Police Sessions.73

Sarah was very likely to be the woman who was frequently admitted to gaol as Sarah JAMES for drunkenness and obscene language until about 1882. There are few descriptions in either the Police Gazette or the gaol records and because those records are inconsistent, it is still uncertain whether these references are for the Newcastle girl as it is possible that there may have been a different woman in Sydney at this time using the same name. The possibilities that she had been admitted under another surname such as JONES or HILTON have not yet been investigated.

An online tree has identified a death for Sarah JAMES in the Sydney infirmary on 31 May 1883. The matching registration on the NSW BDM Index has identified this woman's parents as John and Margaret B. This registration has not been viewed and while the B. in the mother's name may mean Bridget this cannot be confirmed so this record may be for another person.

An illegitimate birth of a George J. HILTON in 1887 to a Sarah HILTON has been tentatively attributed to Sarah but the registration has not been viewed. No records for Sarah or George HILTON have been found in the records of the Sydney Benevolent Asylum.

Many admissions to Darlinghurst from 1889 are also believed to refer to the Newcastle admission. The Darlinghurst admission in 1900 for the Sarah JAMES, born in 1863 in Bathurst and whose husband was living at 47 Station Street Newtown, is considered a further criminal incident for Sarah even though her age and eye colour in her description do not match.74 She had appeared in court in company with Annie MOSS on 14 February 1900.75 The house at 47 Station Street, Newtown, was named St Kilda and was located on the corner of Station and Don Street.76 A man named William CHAPMAN lived there and it may have been a boarding house.

No further evidence of Sarah's life has yet been identified.


Sarah’s parents were recorded in the Entrance Book as John and Bridget PARSONS.77 No suitable baptism matched a child of these parents who was this age however the actual baptism showed that Sarah had been born on 5 February 1853, and had been baptised by J. KEATING in the Bathurst Catholic register on 8 May 1853.78 The NSW BDM Index is in error for this baptism and it should read V70 1853/1264. While newspaper reports at the time of her escape from Newcastle stated that she was ‘a native of Sydney’ and while this could refer to her place of residence, it is believed that a reference to ‘native place’ at this time usually meant a place of birth. Because she had been a resident in Sydney for so long it is believed that the newspapers were in error in their reporting. Gaol records from Sarah's life after she left Newcastle confirmed that she had been born in Bathurst and this was where many of her siblings had been born. Sarah's father was identified in the record as a labourer at Kelso and, because this was a Catholic registration, her mother's maiden name of McCABE, was recorded. On 7 July 1868 an investigation into Sarah's age was undertaken by the Inspector General of Police at the request of the Colonial Secretary and he identified that Sarah had been born on 5 July 1853. The co-incidence of this birthdate and the inquiry date must be considered as unusual and the inspector didn't identify how he had located this birthdate.79 Because he had had only a day to confirm the date, it is considered likely that he asked Sarah's parents – as had been the case with Margaret POOLE – because there was little time to contact the minister in Kelso to confirm exact dates. No marriage for John and Bridget has been identified on the NSW BDM Index and it is possible that the record has not survived but it must be considered that they had never married. They did not arrive together as there is little doubt that an arrival for Bridget has been found. The NSW BDM Index suggested that the PARSONS family moved from Bathurst to Sydney sometime after 1861 but before 1866.

No identification for John PARSONS has been confirmed. He was recorded in the Entrance Book as a labourer80 the same occupation he had at the time of Sarah's baptism.81 When Sarah's brother, John Edward, was baptised in March 1855, two years after her birth, the family was still at Kelso but John was described as a mechanic.82 At the time of her release to her parents it was recorded that John worked for the Railway Department and these records may assist in a clearer identification. There is little doubt that the Alfred PARSON who died in 186783 was yet another child of the family. In 1873 when Sarah married, her Marriage Notice confirmed that her address was Ultimo Street.84 This address appeared to be the residence of the family from about 1870 when Sands Directory identified that John PARSONS was living at 6 Ultimo Street, Bay Street.85 The Sand's Street Index identified that he was on the south side and Bay street and Ultimo Street were dual names for the location. John was still at 6 Ultimo Street, Glebe, in 1871, 1873 and 1876. The street index confirmed this address in 1875. John was probably the man at 11 Ultimo Road in 1877 but after this time it may be that the family had left this address and more tracking needs to be undertaken from 1876. In May 1877 John was almost without doubt involved in an incident with his daughter Sarah and her co-accused, George HILTON, who were found guilty of robbery with violence.86 He was arrested with them but was discharged.87

A John PARSONS was admitted to the Liverpool Asylum in 1878 and 1879 and if this is him it may explain why the family left the Ultimo Street residence after 1877. He had been born in about 1833 but no ship of arrival was recorded.

John has not yet been confirmed in earlier directories and Sands Directory located two men named John PARSONS in Sydney in 1866. One was a labourer living in Vincent's Lane, Balmain, and this man is considered likely to be Sarah's father and the location of her family. In 1867 a John PARSONS was a van proprietor of 93 Stanley Street. By 1869 this man was living at 175 Crown Street and in 1870 the van proprietor at 175 Crown Street was named James PARSONS and James PARSONS is still there in 1871. This may refer to Sarah's family if a son took over his father's business. By 1868 only one man of this name was residing in Greek Street, Glebe, and he was there again in 1869. This man may also be Sarah's father.

No appropriate death for John PARSONS has been identified and locating Funeral Notices for family members has proved elusive. It is possible that John was a lodging-house keeper and may have died in 1882.88 This year would tie in well with the address changes after Ultimo Street and the subsequent potential admissions to the Liverpool Asylum.

In January 1866 a John PARSONS was sentenced to a month in Darlinghurst Gaol charged with stealing large quantities of tea and sugar from his previous employer.89 This man had been born in England in about 1817 and stated that he had arrived aboard the Maitland in 1840. The Maitland in 1840 was a convict transport. John had been sentenced to 15 years at Worcester Quarter Sessions on 30 December 1839.90 This man received a ticket of leave, Number 47/112, in Bathurst in 1847 and a conditional pardon, Number 51/346, in 1851.91 An online tree identifies that this man was their ancestor and had married Bridget McCABE in Bathurst on 16 October 1851.92

A convict of this name who had arrived on the Isabella in 1832 was also in Bathurst.

Another man of this name had arrived aboard the William Tanner in 1841 as an agricultural labourer. He had been born in about 1821 in Tapworth, Warwickshire and had been baptised on 10 April 1822. His parents were Joseph PARSONS and Anne MARMDEN or MARSDEN93 who were both alive. John was employed from the ship by Captain STEEL of the Hunter River.94 From here is is conceivable that this man made his way to Bathurst. All other assisted immigrants arrived after the birth of Sarah Ann so cannot be Sarah's father.

John was not the van proprietor living in Comber Street, Paddington, as the 1876 directory identified both men at their separate locations and the man who lived in Comber Street, Paddington, was at this address in 1867. In 1871 this man was probably was still living in Comber Street, Paddington, near another man named Richard PARSONS, a van man. This man's nephew died identifying a family name for his family as LILLAS.95

Another man was living in Dowling Street, Camperdown in 1873 but in 1871 there was also a doctor of this name living in 245 Albion Street. In 1875 Sands confirmed that the man in Albion Lane was a van proprietor.

It is not believed that John was the man who had been tried at Goulburn and sentenced to 12 months with hard labour in Parramatta Gaol in January 1858 for wounding. He may have worked as a carter or drayman and if so there are many court appearances.

Sarah's mother was identified in the Entrance Book at Bridget and to date two baptism records confirm this maiden name. While no marriage has been found, it is very likely that as Bridget McCABE she arrived aboard the William and Mary in 1849.96 While the evidence for this arrival is scant, there is a link to the married woman, Bridget PARSONS, imprisoned in Biloela Gaol in March 1889 where she stated that she had arrived on the William and Mary97 Bridget had appeared in court charged with using obscene language.98 The Biloela gaol record indicated that she had been born in Ireland in about 1829. The William and Mary indent identified that Bridget McCABE had been born in Rathmore, County Meath, in about 1833. This difference in age is not considered to be significant for ages at this time. Bridget was able to read and write which was relatively unusual at the time and the reading assessment of Sarah at the time of her admission to the school may be a reflection of this skill of her mother. Bridget's parents were Lawrence and Ann and her father was a soldier.99 It seems very likely that this woman was Sarah's mother and this arrival has been attributed to her.

Bridget was almost certainly the woman described as a ‘landlady’ in an assault case in December 1873 where she was struck by Thomas E. ADKINS.100 ADKINS was arrested by Constable RYAN of Sydney Police and was committed for trial at the Quarter Sessions.101 Searches in Trove for the address, 6 Ultimo Street, uncover different surnames living at that address in the early 1870s. This property was rented by John but he is only recorded at Ultimo Street until 1877.102 Bridget was unlikely to have appeared in court before Sarah’s arrest as appearances for a woman of this name begin about 1856 and the NSW BDM Index strongly suggested that the family was in Bathurst until about 1860. In a case in the SMH on 1 November 1859, a Bridget PARSONS was described as a vegetable hawker. No appropriate deaths have been found for Bridget.

It may be that Bridget was in some way connected to the Mary McCABE who married John FITZGERALD as this couple was using the same church. They lived at Vale Creek. The witnesses at their marriage103 do not assist in identifying any connection.

The Bridget PARSONS who died on 17 October 1901, had parents named Michael and Julia but as there are no other possible deaths of a woman of this name this death will be investigated. No Family Notice for this woman has yet been located but n search for a Funeral Notice hasn’t been undertaken for this year.

Bridget was not the woman who died in 1882 as her husband was identified as James who was the brother-in-law to a John PARSONS but it is not known whether this man was Sarah's uncle. Bridget did not die in 1906104 as this woman's husband was William. She was not the woman whose mother was Margaret as this woman had a sister named Mary TAYLOR and had married as Bridget HAYES in 1852.105 Their mother, Margaret had died on 13 August 1885. Bridget may have remarried James FRENCH in 1881106 in Newtown as this woman seems to have completely disappeared. Bridget didn't marry William BEADON in Young in 1883 as there were many children born to this last couple although this may have been the marriage of a sister of Sarah.

Where has She Gone?

In October 1902, an advertisement for Clements Tonic was being spruked by a Mrs Sarah Ann JAMES and this may be a further reference to the Newcastle admission.107 The 1944 death of Sarah JAMES in Newington at the age of 87 is the only possible registration for a woman of this name.108 There have been no appropriate deaths for Sarah PARSON/S found to 1950. It is possible that Sarah remarried or lived with someone and assumed a their surname.

If the fate of more of the children of John and Bridget can be identified it may be possible to locate both Bridget and Sarah.

Sarah can't be the woman 'the relict of William JAMES' who died at the reported age of 32 in Sydney in September 1879, as the Newcastle Sarah was recorded to have been in Darlinghurst after this date and this woman was too old having been born in about 1847.109

Updated March 2019

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